Saturday, September 12, 2015

Book Review: The Self-Esteem Holocaust Comes Home by Sam Pink

Sam Pink's The Self-Esteem Holocaust Comes Home is billed as a book of plays. Most of them however, read more like short film scripts. Even then, how is one supposed to stage an instruction like this one from "Be Nice to Everyone (Version 4)?"
They look at each other quietly. They forget every word that ever existed, even "forget."
To me, it seems best to think of these as short stories in script format. This actually works very well. Both in Person and in the online works I've read by Pink, his prose style is very minimal with a lot of emphasis on dialogue. Both internal and otherwise. The prose I've read by Pink is usually pretty realistic while his poetry tends to be absurd and filled with violent imagery. These "plays" are more like the latter. This book has the most surreal works I've read by him.

For example, in "All the Disciples" we get a look into the lives of passengers on a bus whose destination is "a giant fire that is black, red, and white static."
THE MOTHER: [to his back] You feel free because the thing that encircles you is so big you can't see it.  
I used to ride the bus all time. Not so much anymore since I live much closer to my job than I used to. Still, this piece does a great job of capturing those fleeting connections you make with your fellow passengers. Just before you're all flung into a giant fire. Because let's face it, that's basically where you eventually end up anyway.

Like Person had it's alternative chapters, this book has several variations on its plays. "Be Nice to Everyone" has four versions. Versions one and two are reworkings of the same play, while three and four are radically different in plot and characters. Though all four of them feature a couple engaging in an argument.

Contrast this moment from version one.
MALE: Yeah, I wrote "YOU'RE DEAD" on the lightbulb. It took me a few lightbulbs to get it eligible. I mean, I didn't really have anything to do this afternoon.
With this moment from version two.
MAN: Yeah, I wrote "I like you" on the lightbulb. I had to use two markers. At first I was using one marker but it like, died halfway through. And I wanted the letters to legible. I thought about doing x's and o's but I didn't for some reason [seems to think for a second, then focuses again] I'm pretty satisfied with the results. I mean I didn't really have anything else to do this afternoon. Plus, I was worried about just saying it to you. "I like you" is a stupid thing to say to someone. That was another one of my worries. But I figured you knew. Please don't hold it against me.
Whether you love someone or hate them, conveying it them properly is really hard.

There are a trio of characters that star in four of the "plays" called The Bastards. They're three men in car identified only as the driver, the passenger and the one in the backseat (except in one play, where they're a male and female ghost and a child). The passenger is either introduced as suffering severe injuries, or eventually ends up with them. These are probably the most violent pieces in the book.
The driver laughs. They all laugh. The driver puts his fingers into the passenger's ripped face and touches the bloody teeth. He keeps laughing. 
The flat, script voice only serves to make the imagery more vivid. Another moment from this same play, "The Bastards [They Erase a Weakling]," has the driver and man from the backseat stuff the passenger face first into a portable toilet hoping the shit water will infect his torn up face. This is probably due to my completely rational hatred of portable toilets, but this image haunts me.

One of my favorite pieces was "Cancer Kills [1]" where an obviously very lonely man begs a pizza man to hang out with him.
MAN: [clears his throat] Isn't there anything I can do to get you to please please please stay even for ten minutes. It's so bad in there.
No matter how lonely you feel (he said typing this alone in his apartment on a Friday night), just thank Christ you're not this desperately lonely.

My other favorite in the book was "The Pedophile (and His Menses)" where a pedophile comes across a boy playing alone in the forest. Rather than trying to molest the boy, he taunts him with a bloody tampon.
THE PEDOPHILE: [laughing] Do you smell something nice? Do you smell something you remember? [evenly] You should've been that. You should've been blood. I have you all over my fingers. You are still with me.
This piece is foul and disturbing, but very funny in a dark way. The pedophile projects his self-hatred onto the boy, aware that he's incapable of really "loving" the child. Rather than doing direct harm, he taunts the boy in some kind of perverted attempt at self-exorcism. Needless to say it doesn't work. Like the lice on his head, they are still with him.

The biggest problem I could find with the book is in "Everyone Wants to Work at the Cloud Factory," seems like it has a major editorial oversight. There is a part where the main character throws everything in his pocket, including his driver's license, into a sewer drain. Yet a couple pages later, he's showing his license to a checkout clerk at a grocery store. To buy a can of tomato juice and orange.

The "plays" are all absurd, but this doesn't seem like it was intentional. Lazy Fascist books are usually edited pretty well, so it's surprising to see an oversight like this. It doesn't detract from the book at all really. This is probably just nitpicking.

The Self-Esteem Holocaust Comes Home is a unique and hilarious collection full of vivid and surreal imagery. While I want to say I like this better than Person, they're two very different types of works, so I can't really compare them like that. Yet they're both recognizable as Pink's voice. I say get both. The more Sam Pink you have in your life, the better.

Buy The Self-Esteem Holocaust Comes Home by Sam Pink here.

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